Xavier hits the Christmas break at 10-2. That is, by almost any measure, a successful non-conference performance. There is one game still remaining, but that one has its own narrative attached, it’s a lot more than just non-conference. Despite that success, Xavier hasn’t left the impression of a team on the edge of dominance. Fellow Big East mates Creighton have beaten Wisconsin, dropped 112 on NC State, and pounded some decent teams in Akron and Arizona St. Right now, they look good and they are getting the publicity that comes with it. X has good wins as well, but they’ve lost their only two true road games and squeaked by in some games that the consensus held they should have run away with.
But Xavier has one thing going for it that almost no other team in the nation does: the Musketeers are adding a truly excellent player with half of the season remaining. Myles Davis has been indefinitely suspended for the entire year thus far. His return hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s hard to look at recent statements from Coach Mack and think that it won’t be soon. Xavier is, despite appearances at some times, a very good team already. Myles’ return is going to make them even better, and this is how.
Ball Security and Distribution:
Quick, is Xavier taking care of the ball better this year or last year? The truth is that, despite publicized battles with turnovers this season, the rates are basically the same. Down the stretch last season, Myles was the initiator of the offense about 71% of the time. While his 19.2% turnover rate isn’t top level for a point guard, it’s better than the 20.8% that Edmond Sumner is currently posting, and is far better than the 36.4% of Quentin Goodin. As Paul pointed out in his KenPom breakdown of the first 12 games, Myles return will also move Malcolm Bernard farther off the ball and into places where he is more effective.
It’s not just taking care of the ball where Davis is going to help, though, it’s in distributing it. Xavier is simply not moving the ball this year as well as they usually do. The Musketeers have racked up an assist on about 55% of their made baskets this year, dropping them to 123rd the nation, down from 40th last season. Edmond Sumner’s assist rate is up slightly from 25.1% to 25.8%, but last year Myles was right behind him with a 24.6% rate. This season the starter with the second best rate is JP Macura at 16.2%. That is, obviously, a huge difference. While Myles may help tighten up the turnover issue, where he’ll really shine is getting the offense moving again.
Xavier is a dreadful shooting team right now. 33.5% from behind the arc, 69.6% from the line, and an effective field goal percentage of 51%. None of those are numbers worthy of a real contender. It’s hard to overstate what Myles could mean here. he took 168 three pointers last year and knocked down just over 38% of them, he shot 85% from the line, and his effective field goal percentage of 53.3% in conference play was 11th in the Big East. Right now, Xavier simply doesn’t have someone capable of posting those numbers. Add in the fact that the way Myles moves the ball should free up a few more good looks for the other shooters, and it’s more than reasonable to expect a big bump in Xavier’s shooting percentages.
Feel free to disagree here, as this is almost impossible to prove with numbers, but Davis has been the heartbeat of this team. Coach Mack relied on Myles to make calls on the court last year even in the presence of seniors like Remy Abell and James Farr. After Xavier stumbled against Seton Hall late in the Big East season, it was Myles who dropped 24 in a 98-93 win over Creighton. His triple double last year was quite measurable with numbers but it also helped anchor what was Xavier’s most impressive run of last season. And of course, there’s this:
What’s also worth noting is that when Myles played badly last year, Xavier tended to go with him. In games when X was eliminated from both of their tournaments last year, Myles combined to make three field goals and turn the ball over nine times. Davis may have been surrounded by talent, but he was the guiding force of the team. How that dynamic will be changed upon his return will be interesting to see, but guys like Myles don’t just vanish into the woodwork.